I’ve just added the first three chapters of a possible sci-fi horror novel called ‘Jumpers’ to the Longer Fiction section. It starts in fairly familiar territory, but as someone once said, it’s okay to start with a cliché as long as you don’t finish with one. I’ll leave this to simmer for a while before I write any more.
The great thing about short stories is that they don’t have to contain a ‘big idea’ like a novel – they can be slight and whimsical, a funny aside rather than a profound statement on life, a not-entirely-serious speculation of the ‘wouldn’t it be funny if…’ variety. Stories like Poe’s ‘The Spectacles’ (where a short-sighted man marries his great-great-grandmother), H. G. Wells’s ‘The Truth about Pyecraft’ (a slimming aid causes Pyecraft to float) and Graham Greene’s ‘Alas, Poor Maling’ (a rumbling stomach is mistaken for an air raid siren), are whimsical to the point of silliness, but an important breather for the reader of a short story collection. Somerset Maugham knew that for every ‘Rain’ you needed a few stories like ‘The Luncheon’ or ‘The Poet’.
Anyway, I’ve just added the first three pages of a story called ‘A Mystery Solved’ to the short story section. I’d like to think it fits into this whimsical tradition…
Read A Mystery Solved [warning: adult content]
Jim Aparo, my favourite comic book artist, was born 83 years ago today. Jim Aparo was the first illustrator whose name I knew and whose artwork I actively looked out for. When I was 8 or 9 I used to try to copy the way he drew faces – the blocks of shadow for the eyes, the triangle of shadow under the nose and that ink line tracing the tip of the nose (no one else ever drew a line there!), the heavy shading around the cheekbones, the mouths of his women drawn without corners, like pink bands…
The irony is that DC seems to have seen him as a second rank artist – he was given second rank heroes like The Phantom Stranger and Aquaman to work on, and when he drew Batman it was usually in the team-up comic The Brave and the Bold. In my opinion no one has ever drawn Batman better – he managed to draw him as a man, not a superman, and he made him serious – not a child’s version of serious which we get in the movies – but a serious detective doing a serious job in a flawed and dangerous world. The Three Million Dollar Sky, the Batman and Black Canary team-up Jim drew in 1973, is a great showcase for all his stylistic trademarks – his foregrounding of hands (many artists are terrified of drawing hands), his love of the low-angle shot, his skill at foreshortening, his use of crosshatching to introduce greys. For a self-taught artist his draughtsmanship is phenomenal – few could draw things better than Jim – the machine-guns in The Three Million Dollar Sky look like they can fire real bullets and his planes, trucks, cars and buildings look like real planes, trucks, cars and buildings not comic book stand-ins for the real thing.
As well as not seeing what was as plain as the black triangle under their noses ie Jim Aparo’s genius, it seems that DC’s bosses actively worked to destroy his unique style by discouraging and ultimately stopping him from inking his own work. When we finally see Jim heading up an important Batman comic – A Death in the Family – the artwork doesn’t resemble Jim’s at all – there are no block shadows for eyes, no triangular shadows under noses – he’s had to conform to a studio style and his special talent has been suffocated.
But no one could touch Jim in his heyday – no one else could make comics real in the way he could. If you look at his work on stories like Grasp of the Killer Cult (a Batman team-up with the Spectre, 1975) and The Corpse That Wouldn’t Die (Batman and the Atom, 1974) you’ll see comic book illustration at its very best – not hyper-realistic and not without errors and exaggerations, but the perfect vehicle for the delivery of a superhero story.
I could look at pages of Jim Aparo’s artwork for hours – and sometimes I do. In the unlikely event I ever get rich I’d buy up as many original JA pages as I could get my hands on. There should be a lot – he used to turn out a page a day.
So happy birthday, Jim Aparo. In this obscure corner of Australia, I raise a glass…
Researching Cat People (1942) for a cartoon I was going to do I ended up reading the movie’s plot summary on Wikipedia. What a genius plot! (Spoiler alert) It’s a love triangle with a supernatural twist, as Irena, the mysterious Serbian woman newly arrived in New York, lives under a curse which turns her into a savage beast ‘when roused to passion’. She stalks her husband’s lover, Alice, and in a famous scene, terrorizes her when she’s in the basement swimming pool of her apartment building. Ultimately Irena kills the psychiatrist who comes onto her, then kills herself by walking into the panther cage at the New York zoo. The story’s got just about everything and what it says about female sexuality is pretty out there for 1942. This is the true power of the horror story – what it can smuggle in under the cover of darkness.
Wikipedia says the movie was based on a Val Lewton short story called The Bagheeta but it seems that the movie’s plot is actually very different to the story. It looks like the credit lies with the script writer – Homer DeWitt Bodeen. I don’t really understand why the Cat People idea hasn’t become a perennial franchise for Hollywood in the way that Dracula has – producers looking for strong leading ladies should look no further.
I’ve posted another ten pages of the Hannah story (24 of 29) which brings it back to the point at which the story starts.
I’ve started drawing cartoons again for the first time in five years or so. I’m going to send one a week to The New Yorker for a year and see if I can get one published. According to their submissions page if you don’t hear anything from them in ninety days you can take it that they don’t want it – each time one of my cartoons runs out the clock I’ll post it in the gallery section of the web site under New Yorker Rejects…